São Paulo

Lais Myrrha, Dois quartos (Two Bedrooms), 2015, colored pencil on blueprint architectural plan, cement, rubble, dimensions variable. Photo: Eduardo Ortega.

Lais Myrrha, Dois quartos (Two Bedrooms), 2015, colored pencil on blueprint architectural plan, cement, rubble, dimensions variable. Photo: Eduardo Ortega.

Lais Myrrha

Galeria Jaqueline Martins | São Paulo

Lais Myrrha, Dois quartos (Two Bedrooms), 2015, colored pencil on blueprint architectural plan, cement, rubble, dimensions variable. Photo: Eduardo Ortega.

A large gray mound on the floor of the gallery—visible at an angle from the street, through the glass door—suggested an indoor renovation project. But this seemingly mundane mass was actually part of one of the works in Lais Myrrha’s exhibition “O instante interminável” (The Interminable Instant). The video projection that lent its name to the show (all works 2015) seduced me for all of its nearly fourteen minutes. There was something familiar in its deliberate, fluid metamorphosis from pastel to hot hues—the formless patches of changing colors and textures reminded me first of wonderfully calm sunrise- or sunset-kissed clouds; then of agitated lava-spitting eruptions, smoke, and crackling flames. Yet, as the artist told me during an interview, “It’s not a innocent image. It’s perverse.” Indeed, the perversity lies in the work’s enticingly seamless and evasive boundary between beauty and horror, life and death. The video was made from pictures of explosions collected from newspapers and edited together to form a moving image. Its allure lay in the same veiled magnetism exerted by horrifying news stories of war and natural disasters.

Hung on the opposite wall, six small black light boxes showed snippets of newspaper text in Portuguese related to stories such as that of the launch of yet another new residential building complex, in Avesso (Lugar mais desejado) (Opposite [Most Desired Place]); or that of some political event in South Korea that was juxtaposed with a travel ad, in Avesso (Seis Noites) (Opposite [Six Nights]). Both works were carefully montaged with images of explosions and smoke clouds, resulting in a level of transparency that united them into one. To the left of the light boxes, in a corner, stood a sphere-shaped turntable upon which rested a square, custom-made vinyl record, labeled Lado B (B Side) on both of its faces, which could be handled by visitors. One side featured a recording of a man speaking in German, the other, that of a woman speaking in Portuguese: Both narrate Walter Benjamin’s 1931 essay “The Destructive Character” and Lina Bo Bardi’s 1947 article “Na Europa, A Casa do Homem Ruiu” (In Europe, Man’s Home Has Collapsed), the former an almost prophetic description of the coming devastation of World War II, the later an examination of the changes in values and the splintering of bourgeois certainties that resulted.

Unobtrusively hung on a stairway landing was a collage from the series “Cortina de fumaça” (Smoke Screen), 2015, made from sections of the original newspaper cutouts of explosions compiled to create the projected image. Downstairs, the installation Dois quartos (Two Bedrooms) consisted of a gray cement mass on the floor and a scratched-out floor plan of a house mounted on the wall. With a purple pencil and perfectly straight lines, Myrrha had crossed out all but one room of the ordinary house. The rubble that lay under the cement skin of the mass came from a demolished room.

Not being able to understand the German words on the record, I read the text in translation afterward. This experience made me think about the polarity between destruction and construction and our habit of thinking of these as negative and positive, respectively. Does speech in a language the audience cannot understand destroy meaning even as it tries to construct it? And don’t many Brazilian city dwellers understand that building yet another badly planned residential complex, like the one referred to in the light boxes, is one of those supposedly constructive initiatives that are, in fact, destructive of the urban fabric? Myrrha used these sometimes veiled, sometimes explicit associations to create a phantasmagoric environment in which antagonistic relations were both suggested and challenged.

Camila Belchior